More than 40 states are reporting flu activity as widespread according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With more than 10 years in nursing, and part of that time in public health, these continuous reports on an increase of flu cases during this time of year are no surprise to me. What does surprise me is that despite constant monitoring from the CDC, more than 80% of clinicians have admitted to working sick at least one time over the course of a year.1
It gets worse. This same study from JAMA Pediatrics found 30% would work with symptoms of diarrhea. Or how about 55% said they would go do their job with significant respiratory symptoms.
I can speak to the mindset of a nurse. We don’t want to appear weak. We don’t want to be a burden to our fellow nurses by giving them extra work. We want to help the team, not hurt them, but anytime anyone goes into work fighting the flu you’re hurting the team in more ways than one. Clinicians aren’t alone. A recent public health survey found that a third of people living in New York City admitted that they go to work with flu-like symptoms even though they know it’s contagious.
It’s not just the coughing or the fever that employers should worry about. Healthcare systems, or any company for that matter, will feel financial pain without a good policy in place.
There is lost time and productivity.
On average, a worker will miss between 2-3 days from work because of illness. When they return, those same workers said they didn’t resume normal activity until three days after the symptoms started.2 So imagine those employees just hanging around work, not performing their best and possibly spreading the influenza virus to coworkers.
In healthcare, there are resources to prevent transmission which you can even find on Medline University. Many hospitals have a sick policy or documented list of reasons why employees shouldn’t come in. Again, this shouldn’t be something that’s disregarded. There should be a greater effort to utilize it, but other employers might find this helpful for their workforce to wipe away any grey area about when an employee should call in sick.
Your staff suffers.
When the flu spreads throughout the workplace, there’s the chance for increased overtime. Hospitals have the ability to quickly diagnose the illness with products like the Medline Influenza Test, but sometimes that’s overlooked because of the need to get the job done, ultimately impacting a whole slew of people: CNAs, healthcare assistants, secretaries, volunteers and even transporters. At some point, someone has to pick up the slack and extra resources are needed and that costs money.
The CDC suggests a cost of $16.3 billion in lost earnings a year because of the flu.
Change thinking and save money.
There is a solution, but it might be harder than you think. Providing the flu vaccine on-site is one part. The other is a change in the workplace culture. Employers need to get their employees to understand there’s balance when it comes to their job and personal life. A survey of American workers in 2015 found more than half didn’t use all their vacation days. Those employees said they worried no one else could step in and do their job. Employees need to understand they can take a step back to focus on their health because when they are happy, researchers in Britain found they are more productive.3
What is your company doing to implement a healthier workforce?
1. Reasons Why Physicians and Advanced Practice Clinicians Work While Sick, http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2344551, JAMA Pediatrics, September 2015.
2. Employer-incurred health care costs and productivity losses associated with influenza, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3903904/#R7, Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, Published Jan. 13, 2015.
3. Happiness and productivity: Understanding the happy-productive worker, http://smf.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Social-Market-Foundation-Publication-Briefing-CAGE-4-Are-happy-workers-more-productive-281015.pdf, Social Market Foundation, October 2015.